Caption goes hereWhile health care facilities management is a team sport, it’s also up to each employee to take control of their own development.

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Health care facilities managers must be qualified and have the credentials required to keep everybody safe, because there is absolutely no room for error. The power must stay on. The HVAC system needs to be in tip-top shape. All surfaces must be meticulously cleaned. Medical waste must be properly handled. All instruments must be sterilized.  

Health care facilities management is a team sport. Success depends on many people working together to overcome complex challenges and deliver service excellence. The tone gets set at the top, with leaders needing to be actively involved in prescribing the right training and skills for each employee and making the training readily available.

Taking control

Once trained, it’s up to each employee to take control of their own development. Although conventional wisdom says there’s no “I” in team, if each individual doesn’t do everything they can to bring their “A” game, not only will the facilities organization as a whole suffer, but the individual and their career will stagnate.

Five best practices health care facilities professionals can follow to propel their careers include:

1. Establish relationships with mentors. Having a mentor — or two or three — can be enormously helpful in gaining the insights and organizational knowledge needed to develop career paths and open new doors. Many people look to cultivate relationships with leadership team members who have characteristics they want to emulate. That’s one part of a good strategy.

The other part of a good strategy is seeking out mentors who have different styles and skills, and perhaps are more challenging to work with. Although people are inclined to want to work with like-minded people, innovation often happens when collaborating with people who aren’t similar. By establishing relationships with these types of individuals, mentees are more apt to view projects, challenges and opportunities from a fresh perspective and build skills that complement those they already have. They’ll be able to tap into diverse perspectives and get a more holistic view of how others see them evolving.

It’s important to step outside one’s comfort zone by approaching potential mentors inside and outside the company that one doesn’t already know. Whoever they choose, mentees must find the confidence to articulate what they want from the relationships because, more likely than not, mentors won’t take the time to find out. They should discuss the type of opportunities they’re looking for, projects they’ve worked on that were rewarding and meaningful, and what gets them excited to go to work. Mentors can then keep these points in mind when they come across interesting opportunities and perhaps open employees’ eyes to new career paths.

Facilities professionals should keep in mind, however, that mentorships aren’t a one-time thing. They need to be nurtured. To do this, professionals should get to know mentors as people. They should find out what’s important and exciting to them, what their hobbies are and what goals they want to achieve. These tidbits provide fodder for future conversations and can lead to deeper, more rewarding relationships.

2. Cultivate openness and continuous learning. The power of openness and curiosity can’t be overstated. Both qualities are huge contributors to happiness in both personal and professional lives.

At work, they’re critical to the long game. People who advance in their careers have a strong appetite for knowledge and a deep curiosity. They seek out feedback, especially constructive criticism, because they know it will help them address blind spots that could hold them back and keep them from achieving their goals. They’re eager for experiences that give them new skills and insights, open their minds to new possibilities and enable them to challenge themselves to meet the evolving demands of their industry.

This open, continuous learning mindset is innate in leaders. But even people who aren’t born with it can emulate it by being more conscious and resourceful. For instance, someone whose gut reaction is to look at barriers can try to positively reframe difficult situations and look for silver linings instead. Individuals who tend to be super cautious and whose first reaction to something might be “no” can catch that voice in their head before they express it out loud and, instead, say “yes,” practicing being more open-minded.

Everyone should say “yes” when it comes to learning and development opportunities, even if they seem inconvenient or irrelevant to current responsibilities. Often, facilities staff members are shocked at how these opportunities pay dividends in unexpected ways, now and down the road. Stepping out of their comfort zones helps them harness skills they don’t get to flex much in their current positions.

For example, public speaking training may seem irrelevant to facility technicians. However, even if they don’t speak with large crowds, there are skills that can be applied to meetings with small teams or a supervisor and one-on-one interactions with building occupants — and this can help advance their careers.

Having this open mindset is also critical for technical skills development. Facilities management tasks and processes are changing fast, thanks to continuous technology advances. Some facilities staff members, particularly those who have been on the job for a decade or more and are used to their tried-and-true methods, are hesitant to adopt new ways of working. They may be concerned that adopting new technologies will complicate their jobs because of the changes required and the knowledge that they need to gain. They may be intimidated by things such as robotics, field force automation, digital communications and workflow automation.

Best practices health care facilities professionals can follow to propel their careers.

Graphic by HFM staff

Forward-thinking facilities professionals understand how innovations like these can make them deliver high-quality services more efficiently and cost-effectively. The right organization will not only offer, but will also mandate, ongoing training in these technologies for their staff. It’s incumbent upon all employees to take full advantage of technology trainings to develop and hone their skills.

3. Build soft skills. Technology and technical trade skills are essential for many facilities professionals. They’re table stakes. But soft skills — like communication, teamwork, adaptability and problem-solving — are how people differentiate themselves and rise above the pack. Soft skills are what separate underachieving facilities professionals from extraordinary ones. And they’re vital for moving up the career ladder.

The more one shares information, practices empathy and listens to others, the more trust is earned, the more connected and engaged employees become, and the better the outcomes for everyone. To quote author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The pandemic shined the light on the value of communication. When people were distanced and working more on their own, it became crystal clear that there’s no such thing as over-communicating (and there never was). In fact, the ability to listen and distill learnings into actions enabled some companies to come out of the pandemic stronger than before.

Listening plays a huge part in facilities professionals being able to excel at their jobs. Take, for instance, a service problem that crops up such as empty hand-rub dispensers. A facilities professional could work on the issue at hand, taking it at face value. That’s akin to putting a Band-Aid on it. However, if they dive deeper into the root cause and truly listen to the stakeholder’s concerns, not only will it help resolve the immediate problem, but it could also enable them and others to address similar issues faster the next time around or even minimize or eliminate the chances of them happening again. And it will leave a lasting, positive impression on the stakeholder and on those who can help accelerate the facilities professional’s career advancement.

4. Embrace natural strengths. In the past, management teams and career coaches focused on helping people figure out and address their weaknesses. This is important because weaknesses can prevent people from moving ahead. However, focusing exclusively on them is the wrong tactic. Leveraging strengths is equally if not more critical. When someone leverages and amplifies their strengths, they’re bringing their best self to the game. And they’re happy to do so.

Employees who want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to their career need to be realistic about their strengths. How can one ascertain what is and isn’t a strength? Strengths are qualities that come naturally. People can tell when they’re doing things that align with their strengths by the minimal amount of time and energy they must muster. They don’t have to dig deep or struggle.

Some facilities professionals are naturally great with process improvements and administrative operations; some are very customer-service oriented and flexible; and others feel more at home when putting procedures in place and ensuring people follow them.

Knowing one’s strengths and actively seeking positions that take advantage of them quickly opens doors to new opportunities. Facilities staff and leaders should also try to understand the strengths of individuals on their teams so they can assign the best-suited players for the situation at hand.

5. Find purpose in work. According to inspirational speaker and author Simon Sinek, “Customers will never love a company unless its employees love it first.” Research backs this sentiment. One study showed that in companies with above-average customer experience, 79% of employees report being engaged.

Soft skills are how people differentiate themselves and rise above the pack.

Graphic by HFM staff

Who are health facilities management customers? Everyone from hospital staff and patients to the buildings’ many visitors. By doing their part to keep the facility pristine and running smoothly and customers feeling safe, comfortable and taken care of, facilities team members can propel not only their organization’s success, but also their own.

Finding purpose in work is key to this. People who find meaning in their work are more fulfilled and energized by it. This sense of purpose leads to higher engagement and makes them more effective.

Finding purpose is much easier for people who know what’s important to them and what they value. Knowing this isn’t always easy, though. People may think they value one thing — like working long and hard — when they’re really pining for more work/life balance. Or they are so used to being an individual contributor working behind the scenes that they think that’s satisfactory when they’re really motivated by being front and center and working as part of a close-knit team.

It’s important to do the hard work of figuring out one’s values. One way an individual can approach this is by reviewing what they’ve accomplished, what they do daily and what’s coming down the pike — and then overlay their feelings about each of these things. Honestly addressing emotional reactions to different aspects of one’s job helps people know at their core what they really want so they can shape a rewarding path forward.

There are also resources, such as personality tests, that employees can use to better understand what drives them. Although the results of these assessments may not be 100% accurate, they can provide nuggets that help individuals become more informed and self-aware.

Sometimes employees’ internal values don’t align with the values of their organizations. If that’s the case, it won’t be a long-term fit. It’s better to look for opportunities at other organizations that allow them to live their values.

Opportunities abound

People who are eager to succeed in this field will find many opportunities. Facilities professionals are in high demand, whether in operations and maintenance (O&M), sustainability or environmental services positions. In key O&M trades like mechanical, plumbing and electrical, there are more open positions than there are people to fill them.

For instance, statistics presented at the AHR Expo 2020 education program in Orlando, Fla., showed that 80,000, or 39%, of HVAC technician jobs are unfilled. Add to that the approximately 20,000 people leaving these jobs each year due to retirement or career changes and industries may be looking at a shortage of 180,000 technicians, or 53% of open jobs, by 2025.

Succeeding in facilities management requires a team mentality with a focus on the “I.” Organizations are only as strong as their employees, and individuals can only truly succeed if they’re happy in their jobs, doing things that motivate them and amplify their strengths. For hard workers who like challenges, strive for personal and professional improvement, welcome diverse perspectives and demonstrate excellent soft skills, health facilities management can be a truly rewarding career.

Personal well-being impacts employee and team success

Facilities management staff members aren’t just employees; they’re people with full lives outside of work. To be effective, facilities management organizations must incorporate an understanding that employees lead complex lives, which include navigating countless other responsibilities and worries.

Everyone is juggling external stressors that impact them at their core and affect their ability to prioritize basic needs like a good night’s sleep, regular exercise and healthy meals. Often, these stressors stay hidden. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have on-the-job consequences. 

Outside stressors that impact mental health and wellness can cause distraction and make individuals — and people around them — vulnerable to accidents and mishaps. These ripple effects can impact the effectiveness of a facilities’ overall operations. 

Facilities managers must acknowledge this reality and recognize staff members’ whole health. For supervisors, this means promoting a team environment that emphasizes mutual care and respect, makes time for regular check-ins, and takes both formal and informal opportunities to connect, communicate and listen.  

Many people put others’ well-being and needs ahead of their own. While managers must look out for their team members, they should also encourage employee self-care. This includes employees being mindful of their own mental health. Some practices that can help calm the brain and improve well-being include:

  • Breathe. Notice and identify feelings that come up. Acknowledge when things seem challenging or that something is not right. Often, just noticing can help put people at ease and provide strategies for taking care of themselves.
  • Take breaks from alarming media. These days, people seem to live on their phones, pinging from one news source or social media platform to another. One study found that an average user spends two-and-a-half hours per day on social media. Taking time off from scrolling can relax the brain and nerves.
  • Make time to sleep and exercise. Both of these activities are vital. People who don’t keep up with them are likely to feel depleted faster. Plus, they can’t fill others’ cups if their own cup is empty.
  • Reach out and stay connected. Social time is important to happiness and well-being, but many people got out of practice during the pandemic. Staff members should take time to reestablish connections.
  • Find time for quiet. Even if it’s only a couple minutes a day, quiet time makes a difference. Employees should consider trying it at about the same time every day for 10 minutes. They can sit outside if it’s nice, breathe in some fresh air and enjoy the reset.

Just as a hospital’s main purpose is to foster the health of its patients, the facilities organization’s main purpose is to enable a healthy and well-functioning building. That’s not possible unless facilities staff are also putting in their very best. Supporting their well-being is critical to making this possible. 

About this article 

This article is part of an exchange agreement between the American Society for Health Care Engineering and the International Facility Management Association, which ran an earlier version in its Facility Management Journal.

Lauren Lanzillo is associate vice president for culture and community at UG2, headquartered in Boston. She can be contacted at